by David Hinks
Last Thursday was the second workshop in the series of four gardening workshops organized by the Neighbourhood Tomato Education Committee. Once again we were short on numbers but long on enthusiasm. This time we headed out to the compost bin in the ‘back 40’ behind the Mills Community Support Office on Industrial Ave. and worked at composting the remains from the harvest that took place the previous week – the potato vines, cabbage leaves – as well as lots of used coffee filters (filled with coffee grounds).
We carefully layered the materials – a couple of shovelfuls of the juicy plant material, then a couple of shovelful of dry materials (dry leaves and the coffee filters) followed by a small shovelful of completed compost. And then repeat (several times). None of the material was all that wet so we opted to leave the lid off the composter to let it benefit from any rain. One reason to leave the lid on would be to keep any wildlife such as racoons out of the compost but we didn’t believe that there was anything in it that would attract wildlife. A comment from a couple of participants was that their composters had stopped working because the material was bone dry. A good compost pile needs moisture. One recommendation is that the amount of moisture is slightly damp, about as damp as a wrung-out sponge, however in my experience it can function quite well with a higher level of moisture.
A good compost pile needs four elements: some carbon-containing material, some nitrogen containing material, oxygen and some moisture. It can be simple and one can learn by trial and error. It is important to balance `wet` materials such as vegetable and fruit scraps, that are high in nitrogen with `dry` materials such as dead leaves and straw that are high in carbon – aim for 1 part wet to 2 parts dry. When composting kitchen scraps over the winter, make sure that you have ‘dry materials’ available. There are lots of free materials such as leaves in the fall – I store several old garbage cans (with a lid on to keep them dry) full of leaves over the winter.
Don’t try to compost a lot of wet green material that is tightly compacted such as lawn clippings. This mess is likely going to smell bad and will make composting an unpleasant exercise for both you and your neighbours. Always mix 1 part of wet greens with at least two parts of dry materials such as leaves and add a scoop of garden soil. If your compost starts to smell bad, add more dry material.
To turn or not to turn? Oxygen is necessary for decomposition to take place. This is why people turn their compost piles. Turning the compost pile once a week can produce finished compost in 8 weeks or less. I believe that if you successfully layer the dry and the wet, turning is probably not necessary but it may take longer. Other strategies would be to layer with course materials such as sunflower stems or to insert pipes into the pile that will act as conduits for oxygen.
Details on the remaining workshops are as follows. Mark the dates on your calendar, come and share your experience and meet other enthusiastic vegetable gardeners.
September 19 – 7 to 8:30pm at the Mill of Kintail Gatehouse
LEARN-Putting your garden to bed for the winter; learn about local garlic
DO-taste test garlic appetizer
Free local organic garlic to the first 100 attendees
Ed Lawrence (CBC’s Gardening Expert)
Glennis Harwig (Garlic Grower)
September 28 – 10am to noon at TYPS Almonte
LEARN-Canning and food safety
Teresa Clow (Senior Public Health Inspector, Market Farmer)
One of the main complaints that I have heard from gardeners this summer is that there just was not enough heat and sunshine to turn tomatoes red. They are turning now as the following photo shows but it will be a close finish for most of them to turn before a heavy frost. Better start looking for recipes using green tomatoes. The tomatoes in the photo are Roma or paste tomatoes. These are a determinate tomato which means that most of the tomatoes will tend to ripen at the same time.
This past week I continued planting oats on growing beds that previously had onions and garlic in them as a cover crop/green crop. The beds were raked, the oat seeds broadcast and then lightly tamped into the soil with the back of a garden rake. The following photo shows oats growing vigorously two weeks after planting. My goal will be to spade the beds after a couple of good frosts.
I do as much preparation of the soil and garden as possible in the fall – our spring can be very, very short. Now that the weather is getting cooler I find that I have more energy to do more of the heavy gardening duties such as spading or turning over the growing beds. I use a long handled round-nosed shovel and leave the bed with lumps and clumps intact as shown in the following photo. I believe that the soil should not be worked up finely or raked as this will destroy some of the structure that we have worked hard to establish by adding compost. Let the freezes and thaws of winter break down the clumps naturally.
One thing that we can do to help our feathered friends to survive the winter is to leave any plants that have gone to seed and that have stiff stems so that the seeds will be above the snow. The following photo shows an American Tree Sparrow feasting on coneflower seeds in January. This could just as easily be radish or lettuce plants that didn’t get pulled and were allowed to go to seed.
Insert Photo 7351